Nathan Bransford, Author


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Choose Your Own E-book Adventure - Publishers Give In

A couple of e-booksellers dominate the field and they have forced unsustainable discounts on publishers. The e-booksellers then engage in a ruthless price war that shrinks the pie further. Publishers are decimated by the low price points and many are forced out of business.

The industry moves to a freelance model where authors have to contract with editors and designers for services, and authors are forced to deal directly with the e-booksellers in order to find publication.

A handful of megabestsellers are able to dictate terms with the threat of negotiating exclusive deals with one of the major e-booksellers, but otherwise everyone else gets very little. A few agencies survive to handle the negotiations for the megabestellers and their subrights.

THE (MOST DEPRESSING) END


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32 comments:

Rick Daley said...

Well that's disparaging.

J. R. McLemore said...

I agree. Very disappointing. I chose the worst case scenario because I am striving to get a novel through publication and the whole e-book thing is a bit intimidating, leaving me to wonder what the future of the publishing industry will hold for authors.

Cat Moleski said...

I thought I was an optimist! Who knew? Brilliant, by the way. Also, do you get paid to do this? And how long did it take you?

JohnO said...

Wow, nothing like arriving at The Most Depressing End. Is there nothing to change this outcome, like a better diet and more exercise?

Nathan Bransford said...

cat-

I've been mapping it out in my head for a few weeks. Putting it all together took about an hour.

Bane of Anubis said...

So far a predominantly male thread here... interessant.

T. Anne said...

Can I blame my monster cold on how I got here?

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

You've done a great job with this "choose your own adventure," and I'm sorry this is how we've ended up. But I'm an old DJ, extrapolating on what's happened with the music industry. Recording labels have also had to deal with rampant piracy and consolidation of radio stations leading to a few mega-hits and everyone else getting very little airtime (except on college/community radio, where I now ply my trade). Incidentally, piracy of books is not a problem in the U.S. but it is in a lot of places, and I think it's only a matter of time before it does become a problem here, unless the price of e-books is so low that people don't bother.

That said, the ray of hope in this depressing scenario is the emergence of niche artists who do it for the love (and who can experiment in a lower stakes environment because nobody is making it big), a greater emphasis on live performance, and a whole body of classic and out-of-print works becoming available again.

Peter Dudley said...

This wasn't my first click path, but when I finished reading this one, I disagreed with your final statement.

I don't actually believe this would be the "end." The next logical step, I think, is that collectives would form among like-minded or complementary authors, illustrators, and editors. Some might occur based on selling power, others on genre, or whatever. Authors may even belong to multiple collectives. These collectives would provide bargaining power against the dominant e-booksellers. Over time, some of these collectives would get quite powerful because they not only would consist of the artists but would also provide access to certain markets.

These collectives eventually end up filling the discovery, editorial, and filter role currently filled by traditional publishers. That role needs to be filled by something--the e-booksellers need it, the authors need it, the consumers need it. I don't think the e-booksellers will want to do it all on their own.

Thermocline said...

Hmm. I was hoping for an ending where I ended up with a six figure book deal. Maybe I'll go back to the original post and try some other options.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

I think you have a point, Peter, and I've already seen it happen with groups of like-minded authors. Such collectives would also include bloggers/reviewers who would be seen as filters.

Doug Pardee said...

Depressing? For publishers and agents, maybe. It's that old disintermediation at work.

Without the limited printing capacity, and without the limited bookshelf space, there's no physical need for gatekeepers on eBooks.

I foresee a couple of big booksellers (A and B), probably each offering "bestsellers", "recommended", and "everything". My B&N nook already gives me those choices, so this prognostication isn't a stretch.

I also foresee a limited number of big "you upload it, we'll sell it, maybe someone will buy it--or not" operations like Smashwords. My guess is that reader reviews and ratings will be a major component for these operations.

And in between, some genre-focused "ebookstores" that work closely with promising writers to help them develop. No, I can't guess what their business plan will be, but I think one will emerge.

And this is bad for the reader, how? And bad for the writer, how?

The above is for fiction and for "pop" non-fiction. Serious non-fiction (including textbooks) will probably continue to use the current process, but there might be more emphasis on page-designed works instead of just unstructured word streams.

Just my own guesses.

Nathan Bransford said...

Doug-

A few companies (hypothetically) amassing this much power isn't good news for authors either, save for a precious handful who are able to reach megabestseller status. These companies aren't going to give debut authors good deals out of the goodness of their hearts.

Anonymous said...

maybe it is depressing for the publishers the same way it is depressing for the recording giants. Yet new music artists still makes it out through other channels and odds are new authors will too. Let's face it, the publishing model of today is not writer friendly and has not been for years, the consolidation of publishers and outsourcing to agencies mirrors the music industry. Kind of hard to feel sorry for the middle men.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Of course books would still exist, but I really fail to see how this would be good for authors. I mean, if you just want to upload your book and not get compensated fairly for it, fine. But a virtual monopoly of e-book stores giving out paltry royalties is not a landscape that I think would be very good for authors. It would be like taking your current frustrations with the industry and putting them on steroids. How is that better?

Don't let frustration with the current state of the business cloud your view of publishers' and agents' roles. You'd seriously miss us if we were gone.

mkcbunny said...

Well, I am glad I only got to this answer because I wanted to try them all ...

Tahereh said...

omg NO NO NO how did i end up here?? *cries*

i thought i was optimistic about the e-book future! i've single-handedly clicked my way to my own demise as an author.

i'm so sad. please tell me my clicks were woefully misinformed. please.

(by the way, this was brilliant, nathan. truly.)

Reesha said...

Aw sad!

JTShea said...

Then I simply reinvent the paperback! Or we get hit by an asteroid, or an alien invasion...

Mira said...

I'll post on the main thread about how brilliant and fun this whole post was. You're great, Nathan. :)

Now, this ending might be right on target. I wonder, though, if some other factors might come into play here.

For one thing, authors will have a growing ability to both self-publish and market themselves through the web. Reading something on an e-reader, and reading something directly from the web may look quite similar. They may split off and form their own collectives, and self-publish directly to the web. Technology might support this - technology doesn't stand still.

Also, e-book sellers might not sustain the low pricing. Once traditional publishers went under, they might step in to replace them. After all, Amazon is taking a loss - they won't want to do that indefinitely.

Alot of this has to do not just with the trends, but with the individuals involved in it. Whoever runs Apple may decide they love agents, and sub-contract with a ton of them. Or agents and authors may form collectives. A best-selling author might hold the line for the rest of the writers.

I have learned, though my recent course in Social Policy, that one individual with vision or courage or commitment or just pure dumb luck at the right time and place can affect history. Don't count out the individuals who can make a difference in shaping the future, Nathan. After all, you are one, right. :)

Can you tell I'm in finals weeks? :)

In conclusion, I love this post!!! You're so smart, I really should agree with what you say, but where would be the fun of debate in that??? :)

Doug Pardee said...

Nathan writes: "A few companies (hypothetically) amassing this much power isn't good news for authors either, save for a precious handful who are able to reach megabestseller status. These companies aren't going to give debut authors good deals out of the goodness of their hearts."

And that's different from the current print situation, how?

Nathan Bransford said...

doug-

Like I said, it's like the current situation on steroids. I think it would only exacerbate the gulf between those at the top and bottom.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

I see agents in the future handling more direct promotion for authors--for instance serving as booking agents for live events. I've noticed that already with some of the blogging agents who promote their clients online, publish their guest blogs, disseminate their book trailers, and connect the authors with other bloggers.

Heather said...

This was so brilliant.

I just kept picking the options that sounded familiar. Electronic books take over? (iPods changed music) Done. A few sellers dominate the market? (Borders, B&N, etc.) Done. But the last question was the hardest to answer. Who has more power - publishers or sellers? This picture is gloomy, but there are other possible options - I'm going to go back and read them now!

Elaine Wilhelm said...

Hey, this is fun to be part of a smaller group. Even if we're all at the depressing ending, ack!

I just have to imagine that consumers are not going to be hopping around from Penguin to Hatchette to Random House online, searching for their favorite titles. Who would do all that work if they can find whatever book they want on Amazon?

Elaine Wilhelm said...

PS Nathan, can you tell us all tomorrow how many of us wound up at each conclusion? (Going unscientifically by number of posts.)

PPS My little brother loved Choose Your Own Adventure when we were growing up, it was the only way my mom could get him to read! I actually looked for them in Keplers (awesome independent bookstore Palo Alto) when I was just back there and was disappointed to see only a handful. What is up with kids today?! :)

Christi Goddard said...

So, this is where I ended up. Par for the course, I guess (except when I golf I always go WAY over par).

I know you try to be optimistic about the entire industry, and you also understand a writer's frustrations. One thing that I've noticed about the industry from my meager window is that the basis for decisions is always rooted in capitalism.

This is America, so this isn't a shock, per se. Yet, to attract an agent, your manuscript has to have 'appeal to the masses' so that it sells well. There is little room for a writer who has written a good story, but cannot find an agent since they think about bottom line: dollars.

I write to entertain, and have faith in my various projects, but if no agent ever reads my work for one subjective reason or another, then a writer who simply loves to write has three choices: e-publish, self-publish, or stick it in a drawer where no one will ever read it.

None of this is news to you, I'm sure, but don't you ever have that shadow of doubt that publishing is ruled by democratic process (the most votes wins, aka the most customers for the book wins) as opposed to freedom to find something quirky, artistic, and unusual? I go to a bookstore and it's clear that someone else (agents, editors, and publishers) are deciding what my choices are.

I look forward to the day when more books will be able to be published, even if only in e-form. If I can go from choosing between only 10 of my genre books to over 100, that will be awesome, indeed. Yes, the profit from such a thing is marginal when royalties are paltry, but many authors are starting to wonder: what is better? 100 books selling for 1.99, or no books selling because no agent or publisher has room in their roster for new talent? Yes, I'd rather go the 'traditional' route (as would anyone), but when agents get 15,000 queries a year and only take on five clients... many will turn to e-book publishing. I think e-books will really take off due to this.

worstwriterever said...

Wow, pretty sad how much fun I just had doing that :P

Lani Longshore said...

The tribal system broke down, but creative people still tell stories. The patronage system broke down, but creative people still make art. The studio system broke down, but creative people still make films. It's never fun to live through the interesting times that great change brings, but creative people will still write books, find an audience, and a way to support themselves.

J. T. Shea said...

Theoretically possible, but e-books are simply too easy to create and publish. Nobody, however big, can control either the means of production or the means of consumption. Linking the two is the trick. But, as Nathan pointed out before, we humans are very good at organizing complexity and curating things. I think the long term effect of e-books will be more to break up monopolies and cartels than expand them.

Barbara Kloss said...

Depressing or no, I thoroughly enjoyed that! I'm just glad I didn't die. I always ended up dying.

Anonymous said...

A lot depends on what you mean when you say prices are driven down to an 'unsustainable' level.

Unsustainable to who? (Whom?)

The fact is that an author makes more money selling a kindle book for $5.00 than contracting with a big-name publisher who sells that book as a hardcover for $25.00. As a reader, I can guarantee I'll buy more books for $5.00 than I would at $25.00.

With ebooks, readers and authors win. The losers are publishers, bookbinders, shipping companies, bookstores, agents, etc.

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